Designer-Chef Collaboration Yields Art-Filled Casa Maria Luigia Hotel in Northern Italy
The country estate that renowned chef Massimo Bottura and his wife and collaborator, Lara Gilmore, transformed into a boutique hotel poises new-world sensibilities wrapped in old-world charm. Dating to the 18th century and nestled in the Emilian countryside in the province of Modena, Casa Maria Luigia, named after Bottura’s mother, ticks off all the Tuscan villa boxes: classic allée, original shutters, centuries-old oak trees intertwined with manicured lawns. But inside, the eclectic environs prove it’s not exactly a conventional Italian casa.
“It’s something between new and old, with a little bit of nostalgia—but also irony,” designer Catia Baccolini says of the 12-room, three-story main building. A longtime friend and advisor, Baccolini previously worked with the couple on their four restaurants, including the three Michelin–star Osteria Francescana nearby, as well as their family home approximately 30 minutes away. “They both kept repeating that it had to be easy and refined, challenging but also familiar,” she continues. “These contradictions lead to unexpected design choices that make it feel like a personal and authentic space rather than a hotel.”
The communal kitchen is one such space. Its all-black Ernestomeda cabinetry could trend toward sterile, but with Bottura’s collection of vintage copper cake molds along one wall and Gilmore’s anthology of Empoli green and clear glass bottles peppered around, it’s instead warm and welcoming. Elsewhere, mid-century furnishings by Eileen Gray, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Eero Saarinen, and the Castiglioni brothers along with vintage Murano glass chandeliers keep company with original walnut floor planks and ancient ceiling frescoes. They, in turn, juxtapose with elements of today, such as bright patterned wallpaper and minimalist pieces by the likes of Michael Anastassiades and Piero Lissoni.
Working within the existing structure to create a sense of timelessness meant moving Casa Maria Luigia’s walls was out of the question. Instead, the trio focused on designing from the exposed brick and walnut flooring up, literally. The layout of the guest rooms and bathrooms came first, with fixtures, tile, and wallpaper selections secured early. “Color was a big element,” Baccolini explains. “We tried to give each room a particular feel, picking up on elements already present, like the colors of a marble fireplace or the painted ceiling.”
Saturated shades such as Green Smoke, Stiffkey Blue, and Dead Salmon accompany guests throughout the house, complimenting and contrasting Gilmore and Bottura’s sizeable contemporary art collection, which includes pieces by Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst, Barbara Kruger, and Ai Weiwei. To assist Baccolini, Gilmore made detailed maps for which works went where and why. “They are precise and intense about their collection,” Baccolini notes. “Often, the art dictated the furniture, not the other way around.” Gilmore and Bottura have been acquiring pieces for the last 25 years: “We love sneaking them into people’s personal spaces,” Gilmore says.
“Here, we host people, we make them feel at home, and we give them a home,” Bottura contributes. “On the other side, we give them a dining experience. We’re creating a revolution in hospitality and fine dining.” He’s speaking of the two-story, circa 1900 carriage house that sits across the courtyard from the main building. It contains Bottura’s newest culinary experience, Francescana at Maria Luigia, a nine-course tasting menu from Osteria Francescana presented nightly to a small group of diners, either guests of the hotel or those on Osteria’s waiting list. By day, the carriage house serves as the casa’s breakfast space, with a buffet of locally sourced ingredients such as Parmigiano Reggiano, focaccia baked in the on-site pizza oven, and balsamic vinegar from the acetaia, the barrel-aged vinegar production zone in the attic (the region is famous for the liquid). Beneath the restaurant’s brick barrel vaults, Baccolini installed Ingo Maurer lighting, a trio of communal oak tables by Alessandro Mendini, and leather-upholstered armchairs, while Gilmore chose a 13-piece Damien Hirst screen print, aptly titled The Last Supper, for the walls.
She and Bottura acquired the estate in June 2017, offering only a euro above the auction list price, but decided to take their time with the renovation, officially opening it this spring. Now, in addition to the main villa and carriage house, Casa Maria Luigia offers guests a swimming pool, a tennis court, and gardens to roam, where sous chefs can be found picking fresh herbs and vegetables.
Harnessing the “power of food and hospitality, to me, is a new frontier,” Bottura states. “We’re opening up our home, hearts, and passions, and saying we love to share this with you.” To that end, the communal kitchen is always unlocked, a cocktail room allows guest to create their own beverage, and it’s not uncommon to find chef ending the evening in his preferred space, the music room, where floor-to-ceiling bookcases hold thousands of vinyl records for guests to peruse and play. Bottura repeats his favorite phrase many times throughout our interview: “We are home to slow food and fast cars.” He should know. He’s a brand ambassador for Maserati, its main production plant headquartered in Modena.
Keep scrolling to view more images from the project >
From Front: Paola Lenti: Large Table (Living Room). Living Divani: Sectional Sofa. Gucci: Wallpaper (Sitting Room, Guest Rooms), Chair Fabric (Reception). Riva 1920: Table (Restaurant). Poltrona Frau: Chairs. Cassina: Green Chair (Guest Room).